Carlo Gesualdo

Alex Ross (the music critic of The New Yorker) has “helpfully” suggested that Schubert (d. 1828) and Wagner (d. 1883) trace an “eerie harmony” continuity from Italian composer Carlo Gesualdo (the Prince of Venosa, ca 1566-1613) to the “present day” (i.e., Italian nobleman and composer Francesco d’Avalos, a descendant of the family of the unfaithful wife Gesualdo famously murdered). Vaguely suggesting that d’Avalos’s son Andrea may have been the one listening to some unspecified hip-hop as you left the ancient building in Naples is seriously NOT GOOD ENOUGH. I could find only one photo of “Prince Andrea d’Avalos” – with dark, short hair and glasses, wearing a tux at some kind of international fundraising event in 2003, probably around 25 then. No signs of hip-hop! There are too many other people with the non-Prince name, though, to figure out much more.

Was Gesualdo (1) a tortured genius who blasted through the boundaries of harmony two or three hundred years before anyone else did, or (2) a person of considerable means who didn’t have to follow any rules (in his personal life, such as killing his unfaithful wife and her lover, OR in his music) and thus also didn’t really have to know what he was doing? Either way, the correct parallel is probably not so much Wagner or the Second Viennese School, as Ives! If you’re interested in this, you might also like Werner Herzog’s 1995 biography on him (Gesualdo: Death for Five Voices). It definitely has some strong-minded Option 1 types, but I think I’m still going to go with Option 2!

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